How many voluntary organisations are there?


  • Our analysis of the voluntary sector is based on our ‘general charities’ definition that allows comparison of figures from year to year. Under that definition there were 166,854 voluntary organisations in the UK in 2016/17.
  • As trends often vary for organisations of different sizes, the Almanac groups organisations into six different income bands (see table below).
  • Smaller organisations made up the vast majority (82%) of the sector. They include micro organisations, those with an income under £10,000, and small organisations with an income between £10,000 and £100,000.

In 2016/17 there were 166,854 voluntary organisations in the UK, with the majority being micro and small

Over time

  • Between 2000/01 and 2003/04 the overall number of voluntary organisations grew substantially. This was followed by a period of stability with some variation to a peak of around 171,000 organisations in 2007/08. Numbers then fell sharply during the economic recession and continued falling to a low of 161,000 in 2012/13.
  • In 2013/14, the number of voluntary organisations increased to more than 166,000 and has been relatively stable since.
  • While the overall trend reflects changes in the number of smaller voluntary organisations, the number of large and major/super-major organisations has risen steadily throughout the whole period from 2000/01 to 2016/17.

The number of organisations has gone up from its lowest levels in 2012/13 and has been stable since

Income by size

  • Voluntary organisations with an annual income of over £1m accounted for 82% of the sector’s total income in 2016/17, yet they made up less than 4% of the total number of voluntary organisations. There were just under 6,000 of them.
  • At the other end of the scale, the vast majority of voluntary organisations (82%) had an income of £100,000 or less. Their combined income accounted for around 4% of the sector’s total income.
  • A similar pattern is seen with spending and assets. Organisations with an income over £1m accounted for more than four-fifths (81%) of the sector’s total spending and 87% of its total assets.

Organisations with an income over £1m are fewer in number but account for more than four-fifths of the sector’s income

Big organisations

  • In 2016/17, the number of the biggest organisations continued to grow. The number of super-major organisations – those with an income over £100m – stands at 51, up from 45 in 2015/16. The number of major organisations has grown from 643 to 657.
  • The net growth of six super-major organisations is based on ten new organisations moving into the super-major band and four organisations moving down.
  • Most of this movement is between major and super-major organisations. However, it also includes organisations that receive large one-off payments in a particular year. For example, the Steve Morgan Foundation’s income jumped from £900,000 in 2015/16 to £204m in 2016/17, and the income of Power to Change Trust also experienced a significant increase in 2015/16 after they had received a £150m endowment.

The number of the biggest voluntary organisations continued to grow

Putting it into context

When considering the trend in the total number of voluntary organisations and by different sizes, it is important to remember that the changes shown are the net change in the numbers, as illustrated for super-major organisations. In any particular year, a number of new voluntary organisations are registered, some are closed, and for others the annual income has changed to the extent that they have moved to another income band. Therefore, some trends in terms of numbers and financials are affected by the movement of organisations between income bands. For more information see the reports in ‘more data and research’ that unpick some of the financial trends for organisations of different sizes in more detail.

More data and research

Notes and definitions

Voluntary sector definition

The Almanac analysis is based on ‘general charities’, which includes most but not all (84%) of organisations registered with the Charity Commission and recognised as charitable in law. As discussed in ‘what does the voluntary sector mean’, general charities exclude a number of registered charities that do not meet our criteria, for example, non-departmental public bodies, housing associations or universities.

Micro and small organisations

The categories of micro organisations (income of less than £10,000) and small organisations (income of £10,000 – £100,000) are used in the sampling and checking stages of the Almanac but are always combined for analysis purposes, since there are too few micro-organisations in the sample to provide separate estimates.